The Real Housewives of Domestic Terrorism
I want to start by acknowledging the ways in which all women make concessions to the patriarchy. We all do something to survive the grist mill, whether that’s keeping our opinions to ourselves in groups, crossing our legs in public, marrying a man or behaving according to the scriptures of some ancient patriarchs. It’s not easy for any of us.
One of the mechanisms by which men maintain their domination is a divide and conquer technique. It’s a warning to women: associate with other women at your own risk. The carrot dangled before women is security by association in the male hierarchy. The stick is the threat of being cast out from the protection of males to be used at will by many men instead of used at will by one man. Part of that stick is the knowledge that when you are cast out, there will always be another woman who’s younger than you and displays whatever current fashionable feminine traits better than you. And women always know: we are one mis-step away from losing our association membership. Of course, despite these threats and this enforced isolation, women tend to gather and ally themselves anyway.
One way male culture has traditionally divided us is to remove the female from her mother, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and girlfriends and isolate her in her very own domestic prison, where she is given nominal control/responsibility (at the discretion of the male, of course). Men have named those of us who dedicate our lives to keeping our mortgaged cells particularly neat and tidy “housewives”.
Which brings us to my topic for today: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’m going to go ahead and assume that other radfems aren’t watching this particularly drivel, but don’t worry, I have taken a bullet for you.
Now, examining all the ways in which these particular women capitulate, and celebrate their capitulation - even just cataloging their plastic surgeries, hair extensions, and in Kyle’s case, penchant for doing the splits at parties - would take the rest of my unnatural life. So let’s focus on the relationships, particularly surrounding Taylor Armstrong.
Taylor hails from Oklahoma, where she grew up in a home terrorized by at least one male. But now Taylor’s all grown up and her (now ex) husband, Russell, fit perfectly with the nouveau riche elite of Beverly Hills. She has a young daughter and her own business and is by all accounts living a great life - except for the fact that her husband regularly beats the shit out of her.
Season 2 of RHBH finds Taylor quickly devolving into an escalating cycle of abuse-trauma bonding-abuse. We get hints about the abuse, but it’s not discussed very openly until later in the season. At an afternoon tea (naturally), Camille says “what [they’ve] all been thinking and hearing about from Taylor” behind the scenes: “Because we don’t say he hit you. Because we don’t say that he broke your jaw or that he beat you up. We don’t say that, but now we’ve said it. You need to be honest because that’s not cool.”
This event, the public airing of her laundry, severs any frayed strands of emotional stability in Taylor and leads to a public meltdown at a party soon after. A few episodes later, Taylor announces her marriage is over and shortly after that, Russell committed suicide.
The interesting part of this situation is how the other housewives reacted to the situation.
Lisa comes the closest to being a real friend, despite the fact that for 2/3 of the season, Lisa and Taylor are engaged in a passive-aggressive war that all women are familiar with. Despite their rocky relationship, Lisa offers to open up her home to Taylor and her daughter if she’ll just leave. “She seems to be in a very dangerous place,” Lisa said in episode 3. Later, after Taylor and Russell are kicked out of Kyle’s white party due to the threat of lawsuit, Lisa is one of two women who take Taylor’s side with no hesitation.
Kyle, on the other hand, repeatedly discusses the situation on camera with her other pals and husband and expresses immense confusion: she sort of believes Taylor but questions how bad it could really be if Taylor continues to stay with Russell. She believes that is she were in Taylor’s shoes, she wouldn’t hesitate to leave.
Both Adrienne and her husband repeated, “There’s her side, his side and the truth” several times throughout the season. Adrienne says it’s unfair that Taylor has told them all this stuff and then won’t leave the guy - which is true, it’s hard to be friends with someone who is being hurt and won’t leave the situation. But to insinuate that it’s not true, to suspect Taylor’s credibility, well…that’s not what a friend does.
The real damage comes from Camille Grammer. Remember that stick from earlier? Well, season 1 ended with Camille being handed a giant stick from her husband, Kelsey Grammer. Kelsey left his first, aging wife for Camille, just as he left Camille for a woman 12 years her junior. At the tea party, Camille says “what’s on everyone’s mind” - and adds, “But I have a hard time believing it because when we see you, there’s not a sign of physical abuse on your body.” (Apparently, the thousands of dollars these women spend on makeup couldn’t possibly cover up a bruised cheek or a black eye. And, since when does Camille regularly inspect Taylor for signs of abuse? Give me a break.) She also says such gems as, “Unless I know [she’s being abused] as a fact, I can’t judge” and “Russell’s always been lovely to me, he’s always been nice, so I don’t know what to believe at this point.” It’s as if, being kicked out of the male association herself, she’s waging a pro-men PR campaign in the hopes that defending a domestic terrorist will win her enough points to get back in the club.
One sick irony is that while the housewives are saying all this behind Taylor’s back, Taylor only arrives at the decision to leave her husband after considering that the difficulties in her marriage were costing her friendships. But she did leave, so that’s something.
It’s a sad commentary that these women didn’t automatically, without a doubt, believe Taylor when they saw their friend losing it before their very eyes. That they couldn’t put themselves in her shoes. That they couldn’t do a fucking Google search for signs of an abusive relationship. That Kyle listened to Faye Resnick, whose best friend was murdered by her very own domestic terrorist, O.J. Simpson, tell her what it’s like and Kyle still had the nerve to insinuate again and again, Well, maybe it’s not true. That Kyle and Camille watched Taylor have a complete breakdown, screaming “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!” (meaning, my husband now knows that I’ve been telling people, and he might actually kill me this time) and said, Well, it’s probably true, but nobody knows for sure.
This is what the patriarchy encourages women to do and be. It makes us non-believers of our own eyes and those who should be our closest allies in this long nightmare of male rule. Even if Kyle, Camille and Adrienne couldn’t convince Taylor to leave her husband, even if they found it so painful to be around Taylor that they had to disengage from the friendship, they owed her simple belief.
When our friends tell us outright that they’re being abused and we say, yeah, but she’s also kind of a drama queen…when our daughters tell us that our boyfriends/husbands/brothers/fathers are molesting them and we tell our daughters to keep quiet for the sake of the family…when our sisters confide that their date raped them, and we think, well, she IS kind of slutty… When we do these things, we need to be awake to the fact that we are doing it to protect our own deals with the devil. Our friends, sisters and daughters get hurt. But we do not spare ourselves by complying. We are selling our own souls. We’re abusing ourselves in the name of the patriarchy.